Wednesday, January 9, 2019

Clay’s Ark

Octavia Butler
Completed 1/8/2019, Reviewed 1/9/2019
3 stars

This is the third of the Patternist Series, and the last written.  It doesn’t have much connection to the first two books.  Rather, it creates the genesis of the clayark creature in the fourth book.  The clayarks are the progeny of humans that have been infected with a symbiotic parasite from Proxima Centauri, brought back to earth by Eli, the survivor of the interstellar ship Clay’s Ark.  The book is about the struggle between the parasite’s desire to reproduce and spread versus the infected humans’ attempt to control it.  It’s an interesting story, and as always, well written.  However, I found it difficult to read.  I was always waiting for the connection to the Patternists, which only came in the form of Clay Dana, who has a brief appearance in the previous novel.  It’s his discovery of faster than light space travel via telekinesis that is the propulsion method of Clay’s Ark.  And we don’t find out about it until about halfway through the book.  It was only after beginning the fourth book that I realized the necessity of this one. 

The story takes place in a dystopian future where some people live in gated, protected communities while others live in the degrading remnants of cities, known as the sewers.  The book is told in two narratives.  The first is a past narrative which describes the crashing of Clay’s Ark and its sole survivor Eli who is infected with the alien parasite.  It recounts his initial infections of other people and the building of a community of infected people and their genetically modified children.  Their community is out in the California desert, isolated, so that they can’t spread the parasite.  The second narrative is told in the book’s present.  It tells of Eli’s carjacking and kidnapping of a doctor and his two daughters.  The doctor, Blake, is brought in to study the parasite and the three are basically fresh victims for infection and procreation.  The story follow’s Blake and his daughters’ attempt at escape and the threat that poses to spread the parasite worldwide. 

I thought the plot was very interesting and the world building well-imagined.  It paralleled the same themes of the first two novels, building a community of people with a specific issue or gift and struggling to exist with the rest of the world.  They also have the common theme of having a maniacal leader who exerts some type of control over the rest of the community.  In this story, the leader, Eli is more morally ambivalent than Doro from the first two books.  Both exert a sexual control, but Eli’s is based on the parasite’s need to spread.  Eli fights against the power of the parasite, only bringing in fresh victims as necessary.  

The character development is good, although I thought a few of the supporting characters were glossed over a bit.  This is compared to the first two books where I felt that every character presented was well developed.  Once again I could not identify with any character though I had empathy for all of them.  I thought they were all very interesting personalities. 

Even though the trope of the microbe from space infecting the earth had already been done in books and movies, this was still very inventive.  What I like best about Butler is that no matter the sub-genre she’s writing in, I find her world-building and character development to be quite exquisite, even when I’m only rating the book as good.  I give this book three out of five stars. 

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